Current concerns (17)

 Children to receive justice lectures (Apr.12)


The Justice Ministry has established a project team for judicial education for school children, who may be called on to be lay judges in the future.

The lay judge system begins May 21.

Though the ministry has held explanatory sessions about the lay judge system for teachers, this will be the first time for it to provide legal education for children.

The program, to start in September, will involve ministry staff, including prosecutors, prison officers and probation officers, dispatched to primary, middle and high schools to give lectures on the nation’s judicial system, including the lay judge system.

Lecturers will speak about their respective expertise. For example, prosecutors will supervise mock trials and prison officers will explain the treatment of convicted criminals after court rulings. Probation officers will explain parolee rehabilitation programs. Staff from the ministry’s regional legal affairs bureau offices will be in charge of teaching problems related to contracts and consumer affairs.

Under the national guidelines for school curriculums revised last year and this year,

students are supposed to learn about basic views on the law and citizen participation in trials at primary, middle and high schools. The new curriculum will be fully introduced at primary schools first, beginning with the 2011 academic year.

The justice ministry decided to launch its own judicial education program ahead of the introduction of new curriculum at schools.

The project team plans to create materials to be used in lectures by this summer, and distribute it to the ministry’s regional branches. After summer vacation, the ministry staff will be dispatched as lecturers to schools that have expressed interest in the program.

If there are requests, lectures also will be given at lifelong learning courses organized by local governments.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry has applauded the Justice Ministry’s project, with one official saying, “It’ll help that experts actually working in the judicial field will support law education [for children].”

According to the Justice Ministry, in the United States, judicial education programs for children at schools started in the 1970s, while similar projects have been introduced recently in Britain.

(Apr. 12, 2009)


 Moral education to stress following rules / Revised notebooks to also focus on virtue of diligence (Mar.16)

Primary and middle school students will be taught about the importance of abiding by rules in moral education classes, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry has announced.

The Yomiuri ShimbunGrad job offers off 23.5% to 725,000: poll Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Japan Times


Job offers to students graduating from universities and graduate schools next March sank to a four-year low of 725,000, reflecting reluctant hiring amid the deepening recession, according to a survey released Monday by the Works Institute.
The total of job offers is down 23.5 percent from a year earlier, marking the first decrease in seven years, said the research institute, which belongs to job placement magazine publisher Recruit Co.
The percentage fall is comparable with the drop of 25.6 percent in offers to students graduating in March 1999 amid the “employment ice age.”




Education in changing times Yomiuri Shimbun  (Apr. 14, 2009)Bigger, more fundamental questions have also surfaced along with these changes that are admittedly trivial in the face of massive unemployment and foreclosures all around us. As the economic downturn and the decreasing number of potential students are expected to make competition among universities and colleges stiffer than ever, we are asked to come down from our proverbial high horses and concern ourselves more with how to respond to market pressures, that is, to provide an educational service that better matches the interests of today’s students and the demands of the job market that they face after graduation.

Why don’t we stop requiring useless theoretical courses that no one cares about outside academia? Why don’t we teach them practical skills that will help them get a job? How about offering subjects that are more relevant, interesting and accessible to young adults? Can we introduce new distant-learning technology so that students can “attend” courses online rather than having to drive 45 minutes to campus? Or how about putting our lectures on YouTube in 15-minute segments? (The last one was a joke.)

I suppose these debates are not new to Japanese readers, where institutions of higher education have been dealing with similar questions, as the effects of the Heisei Recession and low birthrates brought on severe enrollment shortages throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. I have been noticing for years those university advertisements on trains that announce the dates for “open campus” events. Many university Web sites try to appeal to prospective students by offering new, innovative degree programs in such high-growth areas as information technology, international communication, medical technology and applied human sciences, and global business management, or emphasize unique features in their curriculum, such as a study abroad program or small “first-year seminars” where new students are given individual introductions into the academic life of the university.

For someone who grew up during an era of high economic growth, stiff educational competition and juken jigoku (examination hell), these changes seem nothing less than astonishing and almost unreal. The table has been turned: Now, universities have to compete for students, instead of students competing for the universities.

There are, of course, many good things about these recent changes in Japanese higher education. Prospective students have many more choices now, and, instead of living their teenage years in juken jigoku, they can perhaps engage in more diverse activities and cultivate personal interests. College education itself can potentially become more meaningful, as students are given opportunities to choose from a wider range of curricula and pursue their own goals. Faculties, at the same time, will be called to retool and refresh their courses, more beyond the comfort zone of their graduate school training and engage in innovative teaching.

Yet, I wonder–as do many of my colleagues–whether the market pressure is going to get the best of us in the end. Keeping up with the “market” is not an easy task that takes systematic effort and continuous investment, which most nonprofit institutions of higher education won’t be able to pull off. And even if we have a way of accurately predicting the market and deliver the desired product in a timely manner, is that really the purpose of higher education?

Many of us in higher education came into this career knowing that it makes no financial sense. We got into huge debts paying for our graduate education, we scrambled around to find a full-time position with a dismal starting salary, and our income will most likely never reach six digits (that is, unless we choose to become an administrator, which most of us don’t). We came into this profession because we believe that there are things whose value cannot be measured by economics alone, whose relevance does not translate into popularity, and whose true significance becomes clear only with the test of time. From where we stand, market-driven curricular change has a great risk of long-term qualitative loss for the sake of short-term quantitative gain. “–end of excerpt–

Kurotani is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California and the author of “Home Away from Home: Japanese Corporate Wives in the United States” (Duke University Press, 2005).

(Apr. 14, 2009)

English lessons on the cheap  Japan Times

I think I did a good job. I am sure everyone who saw my classes would agree. As a result I had high hopes for my future at the school. I didn’t expect to earn more, but I did expect that my hard work would be acknowledged, and that I could continue to build upon the learning and relationships I had begun. So imagine my surprise when I found out a week from the end of the school year that I would not be returning to my school. The local Board of Education had changed the company that supplied assistant language teachers.

I was devastated. How could I accept that my work toward building a great program was just going to be tossed away? How could I live with the fact that many of my students who had finally started to talk to me would now likely go back to square one?

Supportive teachers advised me to talk to the BOE and ask for a direct hire — after all, they would not want to lose the only qualified foreign teacher they had, would they? This made sense, particularly since the current employment practice of the BOE was against the ministry of education’s advice. Therefore, I made my appointment with the local BOE, and clearly outlined the benefits for the BOE and school in my direct employment. Unfortunately none of this mattered: I received a response of “impossible” as soon as the words were out of my mouth. It was at this point I realized the truth: They were not the supporters of education I had imagined. The continuity of students’ learning was not important to them. The effort I had put in meant nothing. The fact that both the Japanese teacher of my class and myself were leaving did not matter, because they had a cheaper deal with their new company.

What expectations can Japan have from its English language programs when everything comes down to saving a few yen? The influx of “dispatch” companies, often breaking labor law by illegally dispatching temp workers to schools under the instruction of the BOE or principal, or breaking educational law if they are not, has created a situation where the pay is so low that those who will accept it are increasingly ill-equipped to teach, often with no experience, qualifications or even higher education, obtaining visas through marriage or working holidays. Many are from non-native English backgrounds with poor English ability and heavy accents.

It is time that the ministry of education opened its eyes to the practices of local boards of education. There are many qualified teachers who are willing to accept the amount paid to the third-party dispatch companies, but unless action is taken BOEs will continue to take the easy way out when hiring.


University of Tokyo welcomes 3,154 freshmen Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Japan Times

At an entrance ceremony held at the Nippon Budokan stadium in Chiyoda Ward, University of Tokyo President Junichi Hamada told the freshmen, “As the driving force of the University of Tokyo’s intellectual activities, I would like each of you to become a ‘tough’ Todai student.”

Ministry Considers More Liberalization

Further liberalization measures of the school system are under consideration at the Education, Science and Technology Ministry. The latest measures would allow private organizations, such as joint-stock companies, nonprofit organizations and educational corporations, to operate currently public kindergartens and high schools in specified reform zones. The plans are part of the latest round of proposals for such zones submitted by local governments, and a decision is expected by the end of the year. Questions remaining about the changes include maintaining the schools\’ public spirit, minimizing disruption and maintaining safety standards at the schools. The ministry remains particularly cautious about the handover of elementary and junior high schools. (September 08, 2003 )

Brazilian school rolls down 40% since December Kyodo News The number of children attending schools for Brazilians decreased by about 40 percent in the two months to early February, the education ministry said.  

THe number of Brazilian shcools in Japan stood at 86 as of Feb 2, down from 90 in December. In a survey conducted by the ministry, the number of students attending the 58 schools that responded was 3,881, down from 6,373.


New Curriculum Suits Kids

An education ministry survey shows that almost 90% of primary school children are happy with the \”integrated lesson\” element of the curriculum, introduced last spring. The most popular reason was that it gives them a chance to experience new things. But 44% of teachers say that they have their hands full with non-classroom activities and have insufficient time to focus on academic progress. In June and July, the survey was carried out at 100 elementary and 70 junior high schools. The number of middle school students who said they \”Like\” or \”Somewhat like\” activities was 78%. Of the parents surveyed, 72% said their children talk more about what they did at school. (September 24, 2003


Yokohama to Go Semester

The Yokohama city educational board announced yesterday that all 521 municipally-run schools will switch from a three-term to a two-term system next year. The main reason given for the change to a semester system was that it creates more class time. A study of the system this year at 59 elementary and junior high schools showed that the number of ceremonies and periodical tests is reduced. The new system would divide the terms with a five-day break in mid-October. Currently nationwide, 2.2% (519) of elementary schools and 3% (310) of Junior highs follow the semester system. It has already been fully implemented in the cities of Sendai and Kanazawa.



The plan is part of revisions being made to supplementary teaching material. The revamped exercise books, known as Kokoro no Noto, or notebook for mental education, will go into use from April.

In addition to the existing topics, such as self-esteem, relationships with others and the value of life, the new books will include pages focusing on the virtue of diligence.

It will cost 400 million yen to print 5.2 million copies of the new workbook, which will be distributed for free to first-, third- and fifth-grade primary school students and first-year middle school students.

Currently, four levels of the notebooks are used separately in classes for lower, middle and higher grades of primary school and for middle school students.

The contents of the revised notebooks reflect new teaching guidelines based on the revised Fundamental Law of Education.

Instead of having moral education as an official subject under the new guidelines, the ministry asked each school to put a teacher in charge of promoting moral education and to compile a yearly teaching plan.

The ministry also revised the workbook content and expanded its size, from eight to 16 pages depending on the level, giving more space for students to take notes.

This is the second revision for the primary school versions and the first change to the middle school one. The notebooks originally were compiled in 2002 and edited by psychologist Hayao Kawai.

Students are encouraged in the new workbooks to consider the concept of adhering to rules. The exercise books become more detailed on this issue as students advance through the grades.

For instance, the revised books for lower primary school has a page titled “Things you should not do,” which uses illustrations to show it is bad to speak ill of others or to lie.

The book for midlevel primary school grades expands on this description, while the notebook for higher primary school grades asks students to think about why they should not do these things.

Koji Sato, 46, a teacher of Yamagata municipal No. 3 Primary School, who has been teaching moral education for more than 20 years, said, “It’s always been difficult to teach the importance of following of rules as children tend to see it as something imposed by adults, and so they naturally tend to rebel.”

“If children learn the process by which they can think on their own and do so naturally, they can understand things faster, so I think it’s very important that the revised notebooks have a section [that makes students think deeply],” Sato added.

However, many teachers obtained their teacher’s license without receiving any training on how to teach moral education classes.

Prof. Toshihiro Yokoyama of Kwansei Gakuin University, who worked as an examiner for a project to revise textbooks under the then Education Ministry, said: “The most important thing in moral education is how to ask students questions that make them think for themselves. So the quality of teaching has to be improved.”

(Mar. 16, 2009)
Nine years after it closed, a primary school on remote Tobishima island in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, has reopened for two children whose father recently moved to the island to start a home visit care business.

Earlier this month, Yasukazu Shibuya, 10, a fifth-grader, and his sister, Masaki, 8, a third-grader, attended the opening ceremony of the municipally run Tobishima Primary School.

The school is bucking the trend of schools that have had to close due to a lack of students. “I can’t recall any other school that has reopened after closing,” said an official of the Yamagata Prefectural Board of Education’s general affairs section.

Yasukazu and Masaki are enthusiastic about their new school.

“I want to know all about Tobishima and learn as much as I can from the islanders” Yasukazu said.

Masaki said she had looked forward to hitting the books. “I’ll have science and social studies classes. I want to learn lots of things from my teacher,” she said.

The school’s staff outnumbers the students two to one. Besides school Principal Makoto Funakoshi, it has a vice principal, homeroom teacher and nursing care assistant.

At the opening ceremony on April 6, Funakoshi indicated he was aware of the significance of the school’s revival. “We’ll do our very best to write a new chapter in our island’s history,” he said.

Local residents also counted the days until the school reopened and they are pleased to hear the children’s cheery greetings every morning.

“There’s a buzz around the island again,” said Katsuichi Sato, the community head of the Nakamura district in which the school is located.

The school was established in 1876 and its student body peaked at 291 in 1946. After that, however, the falling birthrate coupled with an exodus of people from the island saw the student population dwindle to nothing.

Tobishima Middle School, which shared the same building as the primary school, also closed after its last student graduated in March 2003. The school grounds then were used only by primary schools in Sakata for field trips in early summer.

Homeroom teacher Shinji Nunokawa, 28, is excited about the opportunities for education waiting to be tapped on the island.

“The entire island is like a school, so we’ll offer lessons that are only possible on Tobishima,” he said.

Three ryokan on the island will share the responsibility of preparing and delivering the children’s lunches.

Masako Sawaguchi, 57, the proprietress of one of the ryokan, said, “I’ll make a special effort when I prepare the lunches so the children can grow up strong and healthy.”

The school song, which the two children sang at the opening ceremony, was last heard just before the school closed in April 2000.

“It’s been a long time since I heard the school song,” said Yoshikazu Sawaguchi, the head of Tobishima’s tourism council.

About 10 schools from Sakata will go on nature excursions to Tobishima in May and July. The Shibuyas will join some of the visiting students on these excursions.

And if the principal gets his way, these exchanges will be just the beginning.

“I want to increase the chances [for students] to interact with the locals while learning about living on the island and studying its nature,” Funakoshi said.

(Apr. 19, 2009)


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